Guitar Zero: Crossing the Bar (or Barre)

If we were measuring Guitar God status by how enthusiastically my children responded to my playing, I'd already be somewhere between George Lynch and Chet Atkins. Unfortunately, six-string success isn't determined by infants giggling at their dad playing the "Peter Gunn Theme" at half speed, so to my third lesson I went.

The fact that I'm one of the older students there isn't lost on me, and occasionally I find myself annoyed/intimidated by these kids a third my age (or younger) slinging their "axes" around and playing shit that's months - if not years - ahead of my current level. That I can drive myself to and from my sessions and have had actual sex with women means nothing as I listen to them dutifully working on harmonics while my instructor Robert once again, and with infinite patience, tries to keep me from using my index finger for every fret position.

We started by working again on "Folsom Prison Blues." I'm not overlaying strings as badly as I was - thanks mostly to my newly discovered ability to contort my left hand like the gypsy from Drag Me to Hell.

And it was at this point that the guitar world bestowed one of its greatest gifts upon me to date: the bar chord.

There are chords, you see, where you have to cram your index, middle and ring fingers onto consecutive strings. For example, the 'A' chord requires them to be placed on the B, G and D strings. No easy thing for a beginner, especially one with sausage fingers.

So imagine my joy when Robert informed me an alternative to this is to simply "bar" (or "barre") the strings with your index finger, producing the same effect. My 'A', which had always produced a forlorn "thunk" when strummed, now rang out clear and true, like Jesus himself was playing it.

Okay, that's a bit of a stretch. And Jesus was more of a sax guy anyway.

I also (finally) showed him my song list from last week, and he was happy to note that "Blackbird" is one of his usual teaching songs. Any feelings of goodwill this announcement elicited were quickly shoved aside when I made my first unsuccessful attempts to finger pick my way through the opening measures. I guess those Beatles guys knew their shit.

So now I'm off to practice some more. Robert said if I don't have the "Blackbird" transitions down by Monday the next song I'm going to have to learn will be "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." My wife is pretty tolerant, but even she won't see the logic of paying good money for that.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar